A steep increase in the daily rate of positive coronavirus tests in a handful of New York communities is cause for alarm — and action.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York officials need to work together, and quickly. The mission is clear: to deploy the full power of local and state government to prevent the virus from spreading in these communities, and to prevent the clusters from causing a devastating second wave of coronavirus across New York.
Statewide, the test positivity rate is 1.3 percent. Some areas, however, have seen a troubling rise in cases.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo identified 20 ZIP codes across the state with high test positivity rates. Together, he said, these communities have an average test positivity rate of 5 percent. Of the 20 hot-spots, 15 are in New York City. Some others are in Rockland County, north of the city. One is in Westchester. The state’s highest test positivity rate — 18 percent — is upstate, in Orange County.
In New York City, the daily test positivity rate hit 3 percent on Sunday for the first time since June, city officials said Tuesday. Nine ZIP codes accounted for a quarter of the city’s cases over the past two weeks. If the city sees an average test positivity rate of 3 percent or greater in a seven-day period, the mayor has said the city’s public schools — which only began reopening for in-person instruction last week — will close. As of Sunday, the seven-day average test positivity rate in the city was 1.38 percent. Adding to the urgency, indoor dining in New York City returns this week, at 25 percent capacity.
So far, New York’s public officials seem to be treating the increase in positivity rates with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.
Mr. de Blasio has directed multiple city agencies to step up enforcement in those nine New York City ZIP codes, sending officials to the neighborhoods to ask people to wear masks in public and issuing violations to those who refuse to do so. Since localities are principally in charge of enforcement, this is a needed step.
The mayor also ought to make it clear that he expects this rule to be enforced among the city’s police officers, who regularly patrol New York streets without masks. The governor agreed. “Why don’t the N.Y.P.D. wear masks?” Mr. Cuomo asked Tuesday. “What signal does that send?” Good question.
Taking additional steps to stop the spread of the virus in these areas — like banning gatherings of 10 or more people or closing nonessential businesses — would require approval from Mr. Cuomo.
Many, though not all, of the hot spots are in the state’s Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox communities. Too often, New York politicians of both parties have shied from enforcing state and local law in these communities. It is often vulnerable members of these communities, like students who’ve been denied a basic education, who suffer from that political cowardice. In this case, the health and well-being of every New Yorker is at stake.
It’s reassuring, then, that New York City’s health department officials have begun inspecting yeshivas to ensure students and staff are wearing masks. City officials have also smartly turned to community leaders to encourage social distancing and mask use. Mr. Cuomo planned to meet virtually with ultra-Orthodox leaders on Wednesday.
Failing to contain the spread in any of these hot spots will lead to more death and suffering in a state that has seen far too much of it this year. To prevent that from happening, Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio must move swiftly and aggressively, without any daylight between them.